Mountain biking the Heaphy Track
IntroductionThe Heaphy Track is a tough ride and you need to be prepared.
On this page:
- Bikers must give way to walkers.
- Night riding is not permitted.
- Electric bikes are not allowed on the track.
- You're not permitted to take a mountain bike into any hut or shelter, or onto hut porches.
You're responsible for:
- obeying the mountain bikers code. The track is shared with hikers and other bikers – show respect for other users.
- following signs and other markers that clearly identify where mountain bikes can be ridden and where they are not allowed
- removing your bike from the national park should it break down.
- obeying the closure of the track to mountain bike use. This will usually be after storms, heavy rain, snow or high-tide events, which may damage the track, particularly on the West Coast side.
When you can mountain bike
You can mountain bike the Heaphy Track in the winter season from 1 May to 30 November. Walkers will also be on the track during this time.
Where you can bike
The section of the Heaphy Track between James Mackay and Heaphy Huts is closed to walkers and mountain bikers until further notice. There is no bridge over the Heaphy River.
While the track cannot currently be ridden as a through trip, there are still multi-day biking opportunities to be had riding in and out from either end.
You can ride mountain bikes on the Heaphy Track:
- in both directions
- in a group, provided there are no more than 6 riders in the group
- during the day only from half an hour before sunrise to half an hour after sunset. This is to protect two threatened nocturnal species found on parts of the track: the Powelliphanta snail and roa (great spotted kiwi).
You are not permitted to take a mountain bike:
- in or out of the national park by helicopter
- into any hut or shelter, or onto hut verandas or porches
- off the formed and designated route.
Planning and preparation
As a multi-day ride, the Heaphy Track is much more demanding than other popular New Zealand multi-day rides.
As part of your preparation, you should have tackled at least one six-hour plus ride on technical singletrack, carrying a loaded 25–30-litre pack.
While it cannot currently be ridden as a through trip (because of a partial track closure), there are still multi-day biking opportunities to be had riding in and out from either end.
The Heaphy Track is a tough ride – to ride safely you need to be fit, experienced and have good equipment.
The track is suited to riders that can do advanced Grade 4 mountain biking tracks. Fit, experienced riders should plan for two full days, staying overnight in a hut or designated campsite. Less experienced riders should anticipate a 3 day, 2-night trip.
Mountain bike track grade description
You can expect:
- a well-formed 78.4 km track maintained to DOC Great Walk standard
- bike stands at Perry Saddle, Saxon, James Mackay and Heaphy huts
- numerous bridges, like swing and suspension, bridges
- some rough track on the West Coast side. This area is more vulnerable to damage from rutting and erosion
- changeable weather, including extremely cold temperatures, rain, wind and possibly snow. There are steep slopes, many bridges, avoidable obstacles and sections of track prone to deep flooding.
Watch out for takahē and the giant land snail:
- takahē have been released into Gouland Downs and are sometimes seen on or near the track. Ride with caution in this area
- the giant land snail, Powelliphanta, maybe on the track during the day, particularly after rain Ride carefully and slowly through these areas, which are marked by signs – these snails are rare and unique to this part of New Zealand.
- of tight corners and slippery rock between James Mackay Hut and Lewis Shelter
- kea at James Mackay Hut have become attracted to bike seats and hydraulic brake lines When staying overnight in a hut, remove your seat from your bike, keep it with your other personal items, and cover your brake lines
- flooding in the Saxon/James Mackay section and the lower Heaphy Valley can reach 1.5 metres deep over the track. Be prepared to wait until it’s safe to continue, or return to James Mackay Hut
- a section between Heaphy Hut and Kohaihai Shelter is on a sandy beach. High tide or rough seas may delay your ride.
Fitness and what to take
You need to have a good standard of fitness, a reliable bike, and to carry all your food, clothes, overnight and personal gear, and bike tools and equipment.
This is a backcountry environment where you need to be self-reliant. At least one member of your party should know how to fix a bike.
If you plan to stay overnight, book your huts or campsites. Take your hut or campsite ticket with you if that is what you're using.
Hut to hut description
Brown Hut to Perry Saddle Hut
Time: 2 hr 30 min–3 hr 30 min
Distance: 17.5 km
The ride starts with a gentle steady climb, passing Aorere Shelter and winding up to 890 m through beech forest to Perry Saddle Hut.
Perry Saddle Hut to Saxon Hut
Time: 2–3 hr
Distance: 12.4 km
A mainly downhill ride to Gouland Downs on a wide, well-formed track. Initially, the track is quite steep with technical stony sections and deep streams.
Roughly halfway is Gouland Downs Hut. From here it’s 5.4 km to Saxon Hut.
Saxon Hut to James Mackay Hut
Time: 2–3 hr
Distance: 11.8 km
Boardwalks and a well-formed single track climb to James Mackay Hut with its spectacular view of the Heaphy River and West Coast. Look out for Powelliphanta giant snails in this section.
James Mackay Hut to Heaphy Hut via Lewis Shelter
This section of track is closed until further notice. There is no bridge over the Heaphy River.
Time: 2.5−4.5 hr
Distance: 20.5 km
This section is technical but an invigorating descent to Lewis Shelter.
The track is rocky, rutted and soft in places. Get off your bike and walk these soft, muddy sections to avoid damage to the track or yourself.
From Lewis Shelter there are a number of suspension and swing bridges on this section.
The suspension bridges are ride-able or alternatively use the approved MTB swing bridge crossing method. This method involves flipping your bike on its back with the rear wheel angled away from you at 45 degrees. With the stem in one hand move yourself by gripping the top wire with your other hand.
Flooding occurs over the track in the lower Heaphy Valley and can reach up to 1.5 m depth. Be prepared to wait or return to Lewis Shelter until it’s safe to continue.
Avoid further damage to this part of the track by walking your bike through the muddy sections.
Look out for Powelliphanta giant snails in the Heaphy Valley and around Heaphy Hut.
Heaphy Hut to Kohaihai Shelter
Time: 3–4 hr
Distance: 16.2 km
This spectacular coastal section of track weaves in and out of nīkau palms and native bush on one side and the roaring Tasman Sea on the other.
Look out for Powelliphanta giant snails on the track around Katipo Creek.
Popular ride options
The Heaphy Track is closed for through trips until further notice but there are still excellent riding options from either end:
Two nights from Brown Hut
This option allows plenty of time for exploring and side trips along the way (like a trip up Mt Perry) by taking two days to get into James Mackay Hut. Head all the way out on the third day, finishing with a nice long downhill.
- Brown Hut to Perry Saddle Hut: 2 hr 30 min–3 hr 30 min, 17.5 km
- Perry Saddle to James Mackay Hut: 4–6 hrs, 24.2 km
- James Mackay Hut to Brown Hut: 6 hr 30 mins – 9 hr 30 mins, 41.7 km.
One night from Brown Hut
Two days, one night. This is a comfortable overnight trip with all the uphill completed on day one and time to explore.
- Brown Hut to Saxon Hut: 4 hr 30 min–6 hr 30min, 29.9km, then back out the same way.
One night from Kohaihai Shelter
A two day, one night ride from Kohaihai Shelter to Heaphy Hut is a good introduction to the track. Stay overnight in the hut and ride back out the next day. This is a popular family ride along the spectacular, rugged West Coast coastline.
- Kohaihai Shelter to Heaphy Hut: 3–4 hr, 16.2 km.